Here’s What Needs to Change to Get More Women Into Ad Tech

Adweek NexTech panelists say misconceptions keep women out

Solange Claudio, Felicia Gardner, Sargi Mann, and Lisa Lacy speaking at Adweek Nextech conference 2019
(L. to r.) Zenith Moxie MRY's Solange Claudio; Microsoft North America's Felicia Gardner; Havas Media's Sargi Mann; and Lisa Lacy of Adweek. Sean T. Smith for Adweek

Like many other digital industries, ad tech is plagued by sclerotic hiring and retention practices that perpetuate a male-dominated culture at the expense of true organizational versatility.

Getting more women into the ad tech ranks will require broadening popular conceptions of the skills needed for a career in the field, according to panelists at Adweek’s NexTech Conference in New York. Speaking to retail reporter Lisa Lacy, the three female ad tech executives discussed how creative thinking and social skills are often undervalued in the industry’s hiring—and the consequences that has when it comes to who seeks out jobs in ad tech.

“It’s not just an issue of trying to get people to go into engineering and math and sciences; it’s about trying to get people who can play translator to technology and having people recognize that that’s actually an incredibly viable career,” said Solange Claudio, president and COO of Zenith US, Moxie and MRY. “You don’t have to be necessarily the hardcore techie in order to play a really critical role in that space.”

That sentiment was echoed by Sargi Mann, evp of digital strategy and investments at Havas Media North America, who added that creative problem-solving is another unsung talent in ad tech operations.

“I don’t know at what point it became that the technology is divorced from creativity,” Mann said. “There is a bias that you can either be creative or you can be technical. But when we talk about the advertising world in itself, it’s about creating meaningful solutions for clients that bring all the elements together.

“And it’s not about that men are better at numbers and women are better at languages,” she added. “It’s just that we need people in the industry that are good at making those connections, irrespective of whether it’s a male or female.”

The big takeaway: Misconceptions about the necessary skillset for an ad tech career are a key hurdle to much-needed diversity.

As to how these biases became so entrenched, Microsoft North America agency lead Felicia Gardner said the system is cemented by managers who—unconsciously or not—prioritize a certain candidate archetype with which they are familiar.

“People are hiring people that look like them,” Gardner said. “They’re used to seeing the same people—they’re just used to that comfort. And so if there’s an open position, you’re calling your network up, right? And so that kind of bro culture is continuing. We’re not diversifying the industry because there’s too much comfort, comfort in assimilation. We need to stop the assimilation.”

Gardner said the industry is in dire need of a fundamental overhaul in how it thinks about these issues.

“This industry was built with not many of us in mind,” Gardner said. “And so we have to think about also the dismantling of systems—the dismantling of things that weren’t built with many of us in mind. So this in itself is a revolution, in that we are changing the face of advertising.”

@patrickkulp Patrick Kulp is an emerging tech reporter at Adweek.